Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hearty Vegetable Bean Soup

Full of vegetables of every kind plus pasta and beans, this hearty soup will warm you and fill you up, no matter how cold it is outside!

Every time I sit on an airplane waiting for it to take off, I marvel at the miracle of flight. Yes, I know it’s not really a miracle and is all about physics, but it seems incredible to me that we have managed to discern and harness those mysteries of science and get something that weighs 766,800 lbs or 347,800 kg (in my recent instance, a Boeing 777 or 64 average size elephants) to lift and fly in the air, transporting people and their belongings around the world. (Including me and my I-kick-when-I-am-dreaming, drooling seatmate who also snored to beat the band. The WHOLE flight. Eleven hours, people!)

If there is ever a nomination or prize for single most valuable invention for expats who live the nomadic life away from home countries, friends and family, air travel would get my vote, way before telephones and internet. Sure, telephones and internet make the day to day life easier to handle but, there is no joy greater than getting on a plane in one country and walking off 12 or 24 or 32 hours later, right into the arms of a loved one. As few as 60 years ago, those same trips could have taken weeks or even months by boat. And a week-long trip to visit my daughters would not have even been a remote possibility. But here I am in Providence, cooking for elder daughter and two of her friends and younger daughter and three of her friends and life in 2012 is GOOD.

We were rocking the fake sausage meat but you can use actual sausage, if you eat such things. Also these vegetable amounts are completely flexible. If you don’t like something, substitute something else. You really like something? Add more of that.

1 bag Hurst’s 15-Bean Soup mix (with completely kosher and vegetarian friendly, “ham” seasoning packet - say, what?!) or 20 oz or 570g of your favorite dried bean combination
2 medium onions
1 egg
14 oz or 400g of Gimme Lean or sausage meat. (Italian would work really well here.)
Olive oil
1 28 oz or 790g can crushed tomatoes
2-3 sticks of celery
2 carrots
2 zucchini or courgettes
About a third of a medium sized head of cauliflower
1 14 oz or 396g can of hominy or sweet corn, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper – more or less to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
2 bay leaves
6 oz or 170g short pasta of your choice
Sea salt
1 or more vegetable stock cubes, to taste

Cover the beans plus another three inches or 7.5cm with boiling water. Put a lid on the pot or bowl and allow to soak for one hour. This takes the place for an overnight soak and works for any hard dried beans that usually require soaking.

Aren't they just gorgeous?! 

Meanwhile, chop your onions and celery and mix half of one onion (or 1/4 of your pile) with the Gimme Lean and the egg. Form into little balls.

Pan-fry these in a little olive oil until they are nicely browned and set aside.

Sauté the remaining onions and the celery with a little olive oil, in the same skillet or a pot big enough to hold all the other ingredients.

Your beans are probably still in soak mode, so go ahead and get the rest of your vegetables prepped.

Cut the zucchini in quarters lengthwise.  Remove the soft middle bit with a knife.
This squishy part can be put directly in the pot, if you'd like. Save the green outside for nearer the end of cooking.

Once the soaking hour is up, drain and rinse the beans and pop them into the pot with the sauteed onions and celery.

Cover them with water. It doesn’t have to be hot. Add in the can of crushed tomatoes, the “ham” seasoning packet (if you are using the Hurst bean mix,) the stock cube/s (add one at a time and taste for saltiness before adding any more), the two bay leaves, the tablespoon of sugar.

Cook over a slow to medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, checking the water level occasionally and adding more, if necessary. Stir to make sure the beans aren't sticking on the bottom of the pot. About halfway through, add in the hominy.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil your pasta in salted water, according to package instructions. Rinse and set aside to cool. We don’t throw the pasta right in the bean pot because it will soak up all of your liquid quite quickly and the starch from the pasta will make the soup too starchy. This soup is thick enough!

When your beans are tender, you can add in the fresh vegetables and the meatless (or meat) balls. Season with the crushed red pepper. Cook until the carrots, zucchini and cauliflower are done to your liking.

Right before serving, add in the cooked pasta and make sure it is heated through. This pot of hearty vegetable bean soup will feed 10-12 people quite easily.


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